A High Court judge in Belfast has dismissed a challenge to the Northern Ireland Protocol brought by a number of unionist politicians — including Jim Allister, Arlene Foster and David Trimble.
Mr Justice Colton rejected, on a number of grounds, two applications for judicial review challenging the protocol, which was agreed between the UK and EU in Brexit negotiations.
The news came as the EU announced a package of measures designed to ease concerns about how the protocol operates.
The court found that the making of treaties and the conduct of foreign affairs were “matters of high-level politics which are unsuited to supervision by a court on a judicial review application”.
The applicants had argued that the protocol and its regulations were incompatible with the Act of Union 1800. They said that this act enjoyed special privileges as a “constitutional statute”.
The judge, however, ruled that, while the acts governing the protocol overrode the Act of Union, “insofar as there is a conflict, they are to be preferred”.
The court said that there was no legal precedent whereby the 1800 act had operated to nullify a subsequent act of parliament.
‘No impact’ from 1998 act
The court also concluded that 1998 legislation arising out of the Belfast Agreement had no impact on the legality of the changes brought about by the protocol.
The applicants had argued that the Northern Ireland Act 1998 prevented the “profound constitutional change” in the status of Northern Ireland that the protocol had effected. The judge decided, however, that the 1998 agreement and the associated legislation related only to the right to determine whether to remain as part of the UK, or to become part of a united Ireland.
The judge also refused a judicial review on the grounds that there had been a breach of EU law, and also rejected an argument that the rights of Northern Ireland citizens had been breached.
EU extends ‘grace period’
The European Commission has announced a number of measures aimed at easing tensions over the operation of the protocol, including a three-month extension, to 30 September, of the ‘grace period’ for the movement of chilled meats from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič also announced plans for a legislative proposal in the early autumn that, he said, would secure the continued supply of medicines from Britain to Northern Ireland.
He said that the EU also planned to ease the movement of guide dogs accompanying people travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland.
He warned, however, that the EU was not “issuing a blank cheque” on chilled meats, saying that the solution announced today (30 June) was temporary, and came with strict conditions attached.
“The UK must fulfil clear obligations, such as a channelling procedure in Northern Ireland; obligatory health certificates; the ‘NI only’ destination with corresponding packaging and labelling; while standards for these products must remain unchanged,” the commissioner said.